Neil Young versus Joe Rogan and Spotify: Talkin’ in the Free World

Well 2022 has been a crazy year so far in classic rock and the first month isn’t over yet. I can only imagine more crazy stuff will be in store in the coming months. This month we lost classic rock greats Burke Shelley, Ronnie Spector, and Meat Loaf. On Twitter three music discourses dominate my timeline: Damon Albarn versus Taylor Swift, Kurt Cobain: was he transgender?, and Neil Young versus Joe Rogan.

I won’t touch the first two because 90s music isn’t my forte (Oasis are my favourite 90s band just wanna say that), even though I like some Blur songs, I don’t like Nirvana though and honestly any discussion of a dead person’s sexual orientation or gender identity is all speculation and we’ll never know the true answer. I definitely have my theories on dead classic rockers I think were bisexual or at the very least bicurious, but they’re just that, theories and on this blog I want to focus on and talk about the truth, with a bit of my opinions and interpretations, since everyone has their own world view and no one can be truly objective. Life moulds and shapes you and the way you think about everything.

Who are these people?

Well if you’re reading this blog, you probably know who Neil Young is. In case you don’t because you’re more into things that aren’t folk rock, that’s fine. Neil Young has been in the music industry since the 1960s. This Canadian born singer was in The Squires and The Mynah Birds (the latter had Rick James as their lead singer, yes the one who became famous with “Super Freak”) before driving to the US, falling in love with it, and staying there undocumented for a few years before getting a green card. He and bassist Bruce Palmer drove to LA and formed Buffalo Springfield, and that’s when the world first became familiar with Neil Young. I’m sure you all know “For What It’s Worth”. At some point Bruce Palmer was deported for illegally living in the US, but Neil Young somehow didn’t get deported, but that led to Buffalo Springfield’s breakup. Along with The Byrds, Buffalo Springfield were a big part of the folk rock sound, and as you know members of both groups plus one of The Hollies formed a little supergroup called Crosby, Stills, Nash (& Young) – the band known for “Suite: Judy Blue Eyes”, “Woodstock”, “Teach Your Children”, “Ohio”, and “Our House. Neil Young of course had his solo career with hits like “Cinnamon Girl”, “Heart of Gold”, “Old Man”, and “Rockin’ in the Free World”. There’s your short summary of Neil Young.

Zoomers know Joe Rogan best for being the world’s most listened to podcaster. Millennials and Gen Xers will know him for hosting Fear Factor, his comedy, and working with UFC. Since this situation is regarding Joe Rogan’s podcast we will only talk about his podcast. His podcast is so big that it gets more eyes and ears than a lot of mainstream media programmes. It’s no surprise that people are turning away from the mainstream media. Cable is expensive and all the programmes are monotonous and boring, with many people finding them out of touch and outdated. The internet democratises conversation and you can easily find a wider variety of perspectives than in the pre-internet days. Joe Rogan started broadcasting The Joe Rogan Experience in 2009 and it quickly grew in popularity in the late 2010s with clips being uploaded to YouTube. On the podcast, Joe Rogan talks to a wide variety of people: politicians, comedians, musicians, actors, scientists, fellow podcasters, authors, journalists, athletes, artists, you name it, just interesting people. And he has a conversation with them for about 2-3 hours. You know you’ve made it when you get to go on his podcast, it’s a pretty big deal. Such a big deal that in 2020, he got a $100 million contract with Spotify. That’s not chump change. That’s what you need to know about Joe Rogan’s background.

What happened?

As objectively as possible, I’m going to give you the Cliff Notes on what happened.

Joe Rogan makes no secret of his views on vaccines. He didn’t get vaccinated and he’s regularly mentioned it. He’s said things that downplayed covid like saying if you’re healthy, eat right, watch your weight, and exercise, you don’t need to worry about covid and you don’t need to get vaccinated for it, even though there are young healthy people who have no pre-existing conditions who have gotten severe cases of covid, ending up with long covid or even some dying of it. In clarification, he has said that he isn’t an antivaxxer and that he thinks vaccines are safe and that vulnerable people should get vaccinated. At the bare minimum he is hesitant of getting the covid vaccine and overall he seems. He later said that he’s cancelled tour dates in Canada, including his sold out 4/20 show in Vancouver, because he didn’t want to get vaccinated and that’s a requirement to enter the country, negative tests are not enough and quarantine is not an option.

Last year there was also that whole controversy over ivermectin and CNN said that Joe Rogan took horse dewormer, even though he was taking ivermectin for humans and it was prescribed to him by his doctor and he took a whole cocktail of medications to fight covid: monoclonal antibodies, Z-Pak, and prednisone – basically throwing the kitchen sink at it, despite not trusting vaccines. He debated Dr Sanjay Gupta and said that he’s pro-choice and pro bodily autonomy with vaccines.

Last month, he interviewed Dr Robert Malone, a virologist and immunologist who did some early work decades ago that led to the development of MRNA vaccine technology, important work no doubt, but what makes Dr Malone controversial is his comments on the vaccine and society’s reaction to covid. During the podcast, Dr Malone said (not an exhaustive list, but a summary of some of what he said, I do not endorse what he’s saying, but I want to tell you what he said):

  • He believed in freedom of choice and informed consent when it comes to vaccines
  • Claimed that there is not much discussion of side effects of the vaccine and no informed consent (a weird claim because you get a leaflet at the vaccination centre and the staff let you know of side effects).
  • Said that treatments like hydroxychloroquine and ivermectin were suppressed and undermined because of claims there was no evidence it was useful and pharmaceutical companies did this to make money off it later.
  • That Uttar Pradesh, a province of India, has defeated covid thanks to ivermectin.
  • That he got the covid vaccine (Moderna) and had gotten covid twice. First time was February 2020, early on in the pandemic and he was not hospitalised, led to him getting long covid. He got vaccinated because he wanted to travel and because at the time it was believed the vaccine helps long covid. He got adverse effects from Moderna. The second time he got covid, four months after getting vaccinated, he got the Delta variant and was sick for 3 days.
  • If you’ve gotten covid and have natural immunity, you’re more 2-4 times more likely to have adverse effects from the jab. Natural immunity is superior.
  • There are unprecedented levels of coordinated media warfare and propaganda around the pandemic. The BBC started the Trusted News Initiative. Big tech and media companies worked together in this initiative in service of the government, built to protect democracy and voting integrity from hostile offshore players, disinformation (Russia?). Response of the west to build a new structure. This organisation labels people as antivaxxers if they are any bit hesitant or questioning vaccines, defining their comments as misinformation and disinformation and they get silenced.
  • Lockdowns cost lives, mental health, and the economy and Sweden handled this better than other countries for their no lockdown approach.
  • Hospitals have a financial incentive to attribute deaths to covid. They get a bonus of $3,000 for each covid positive patient who is hospitalised, with further bonuses for those put on ventilators and those who die and are covid positive at the time of death, whether or not it’s dying of covid.
  • Thomson Reuters, a big fact checker for Twitter have ties to Pfizer.
  • He is probably the only person behind the invention of this technology with no financial stake in it and that’s why he feels he can speak out about his field, being destroyed.
  • Think twice before giving your kids the covid vaccine because it affects girls’ and women’s menstrual cycles and drives myocarditis in boys and men. The spike protein and lipid nanoparticles in the MRNA vaccine is causing problems.
  • Multiple jabs is bad because with allergy shots with antigen, reduces high-zone tolerance and it shuts down t-cell response. He said similar things happen with boosters, antibody dependent enhancement.

The one comment from Dr Malone that really got the big tech companies and mainstream media companies fired up was calling America’s reaction to covid “mass formation psychosis“. He said that it means that ⅓ of the population are hypnotised and believe everything Fauci and the mainstream media say and that news articles tell people what to think. Lockdown has led to people being decoupled from each other socially, anxiety is high, there were a lot of unknowns, the world doesn’t make sense, and they put their faith in a leader, which hypnotises them, all focus is on covid and the press are incentivised to push a narrative and manipulate information. The leaders see people are in pain and say they can fix the problems and people naturally follow them. Those who question the narrative are attacked. Society needs to come together and be aware of mass formation psychosis. Joe Rogan said that 4 years of Trump polarised people and the vaccines are politicised.

In response, 270 supposed doctors signed an open letter to Spotify to pull down Rogan’s podcast, but it turns out a lot of the signatories weren’t even practising MDs. Some of them were vets, dentists, podcasters, PhD students, masters students, medical students, and people with PhDs in unrelated fields.

Since then, Dr Malone and Joe Rogan have been under fire. On 23 January, Dr Malone spoke at an anti-vaccine mandate rally in Washington DC which also had notorious antivaxxer RFK Jr as a speaker. Dr Malone has been permanently suspended from Twitter and LinkedIn.

In latest news, Neil Young is demanding Spotify pull down his music because they platform Joe Rogan and he says that what Joe Rogan is doing on his podcast is dangerous because he is spreading misinformation about vaccines. He tells them it’s either Neil Young or Joe Rogan and they can’t have both. In numbers, 11 million people tune into the Joe Rogan podcast every episode while Buffalo Springfield have 3.1 million monthly listeners, CSNY have 2.7 million monthly listeners, and Neil Young has 6 million monthly listeners.

Neil Young has a history of being pro-vaccine and it makes sense given his childhood. When he was 5, he got polio, only a few years before the polio vaccine was invented and made widely available. He was taken to hospital because he couldn’t walk and it took him a long time to learn to walk again. Neil Young is not alone in classic rockers who had polio, Donovan, Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, and Ian Dury caught it too.

Neil Young isn’t a virtue signaller when it comes to covid. He has taken principled stances such as cancelling concerts and festival appearances like Farm Aid and calling on promoters to cancel concerts, which he says are super-spreader events. He’s said these promoters only care about profit, not about people’s safety or public health (where is the lie?). A big contrast from Eric Clapton.

Many people aren’t aware of this because Neil Young didn’t use a wheelchair or crutches at the height of his fame. Not only did he have polio, he also has diabetes and epilepsy. At the age of 60 a brain aneurysm nearly killed him. He’s definitely dealt with a lot of health problems, so it makes sense why he has no tolerance for misinformation around vaccines and anything that promotes scepticism of vaccines. He wouldn’t want anyone else to suffer from polio and with other health conditions, he’s at high risk and understandably wants to protect himself and wants others to protect themselves because disability can strike at any time and we all have people in our lives who are at higher risk. Vaccines have a long history of being safe and beneficial and if everyone who can get vaccinated gets vaccinated, we have herd immunity, which protects those who can’t be vaccinated or vaccines won’t work as well for them because they’re too young, elderly, on immunosuppressants, or have conditions that put them at high risk. Vaccine sceptics often spread some awful lies about ingredients or vaccines causing autism or allergies and this puts people in danger.

A little personal anecdote here but the reason I never got chicken pox is I got vaccinated for it when I was a baby. Since I was born in 1994, I was among that first generation who got vaccinated for it and didn’t have to catch it through a chicken pox party and get immunity that way. Here’s an interesting covid vaccine related anecdote. My husband and I have two roommates who didn’t get the covid booster, while we did. The ones who didn’t get the booster got mild cases of covid. My husband and did not get covid even though we were all isolated together in the same house thanks to us having our boosters and our roommates avoiding using common areas and wearing masks when outside their rooms.

Hot take time!

I agree with Neil Young when it comes to him being frustrated and angry with anti-vaccine rhetoric and misinformation. His stance on cancelling big concerts makes some sense and I think what he’s saying comes from a good place. However, I know that because concerts have been cancelled, many people are out of work and that’s not good. People need to be supported financially and we need safety nets for times like this and other hardships. I wish the world took a less capitalistic approach to tacking the pandemic together, dare I say a socialist approach, and actually put the lives of people before profit. Certainly would have saved lives and we wouldn’t have as much homelessness and precarious living situations.

Where I disagree with Neil Young is that Spotify should pull down the Joe Rogan Experience podcast. While people will say that it isn’t censorship because it’s a private company, on principle, I am a big free speech person, even with ideas I don’t like. I believe the answer to misinformation and yes, even hate speech, is more speech and calling it out. It’s important to talk about misinformation and explain why it’s wrong and by banning certain ideas from big platforms, you’re only pushing the misinformation underground where it can still spread and I don’t think these bad ideas are going away. People are always going to have bad ideas and bad takes. That’s life!

I shouldn’t have to say this, but if you’re getting medical advice from a podcast, you’re a fool. If you have qualms or hesitations about the vaccine talk to your doctor and ask them their opinion. You and your doctor know best about your situation and you can work together to make sure you’re safe and healthy. I would hope that you have a good doctor you can trust, that’s really important.

I encourage people to think critically and come to their own conclusions. That’s what we need to always be teaching in school. Never be afraid to ask questions and keep an open mind and listen. I think science can be intimidating and we need good science communicators who can make science approachable and interesting to people. Ones who believe that there’s no such thing as a stupid question and that these “stupid questions” can lead people to ask good questions. We should also improve science education and teach science literacy more.

Why do I think people are listening to Joe Rogan though? He’s funny, entertaining, maybe even relatable to people. He talks to a lot of interesting people and his guests are diverse and have all sorts of opinions. Not everything has to be serious, boring, hard news. He isn’t far right or a gateway to it. He’s far from being like Dave Rubin, who only really talks to right wingers (by the way Joe Rogan has called out Dave Rubin on his podcast for saying there should be no regulations).

Long periods of isolation have really done a number on our mental health and it’s not surprising that people fall down weird rabbit holes and we’re even more polarised now than under Trump. I’m not surprised that people are abandoning mainstream media and not trusting the establishment. There’s been so much misinformation from the government about covid, especially around masks. The government has politicised vaccines, especially in America, and that didn’t help anything. It pit people against each other and that’s exactly what the ruling class want. Vaccines were also originally hailed as the silver bullet, what would end covid and people were misled, there was poor messaging from the government because all the government cared about was money.

It should be humans versus the virus, but instead people are pit against each other and told to see others as walking viruses. As well, I don’t think vaccine hesitancy is the biggest thing to blame for covid. These variants that dodge the vaccines started in developing countries, you know, the ones who were last to get vaccines because it’s all about money and the rich countries bought them up? We’re more globalised than ever before and there’s positives and negatives, the negatives being seen most easily in a pandemic.

Why do the media never call out predatory practices of big pharma like charging poor countries more or why they make vaccines all about profit? I think it’s important to follow the money and it’s true that pharmaceutical companies sponsor news programmes, which are all about ratings and sensationalism. I blame capitalism and greed more than I blame fellow human beings who are just living their lives.

I don’t think censorship is the answer because where do you draw the line? Don’t people have a right to say stupid things? Of course free speech works in multiple directions. I know people may disagree with what I have to say and that’s fine, they can share their opinions in the comments section or make responses to me, I don’t care, that’s the beauty of the internet, discussion is democratised. I truly do believe in a marketplace of ideas and people should be free to talk about things. The internet is supposed to be our public square and provided people are not being defamed or threatened, let people say what they want, even if it’s offensive. If you’re offended by Joe Rogan, don’t watch. If you don’t like his takes, debunk them. Which is a big reason I don’t like what YouTube did, censoring clips of his podcast with Robert Malone. I think in order to debunk the videos properly, you need to have clips for context and with the automation of moderation (thanks to companies cutting corners to save money, yay capitalism!), videos get taken down unfairly and for no good reason. I would love to see debates between Robert Malone and people who disagree with him. Joe Rogan has had pro-vaccine and even pro-lockdown people on his podcast, such as Australian lockdown and vaccine proponent Josh Szeps, and I’d love to see him have more of them on.

When you censor people, you end up turning them into martyrs and giving credence to what the conspiracy theorists have to say like “oh this is the forbidden fruit, this is what the man doesn’t want you to hear, they have something to hide by trying to silence us”. Have a dialogue! Have a debate! The way to fight misinformation is debunking and talking about the misinformation, not by sweeping it under the rug and pretending it doesn’t exist.

At the end of the day, I can’t see Spotify taking down Joe Rogan and it’s not because of any principled stance. Like everything, it’s all about the money.

Update 1 February 2022: I don’t always update my music news/opinion posts, but I felt I had to say something given what’s happened since. More musicians such as Joni Mitchell, Nils Lofgren, and Liza Minnelli have since pulled their music from Spotify. Given recent developments, I have changed my position on Neil Young’s decision to remove his music from Spotify. After pulling his music from Spotify, he promoted Amazon Music and gave a link for users to get a free trial. I now feel that removing his music from Spotify and propping up another service run by even less ethical people is just a virtue signal. I’d argue that Jeff Bezos has done way more harm in the pandemic than Joe Rogan. Why? Amazon have union busted, denied sick leave to workers, use an algorithm to fire employees, and warehouse workers were locked inside during a tornado, resulting in six deaths. Amazon are totally a pillar of the community, a paragon of ethics, NOT! Apple aren’t squeaky clean either: trying to block right to repair laws, using sweatshop labour, and greenwashing. And if Neil Young is so concerned about anti-vax rhetoric doing harm, RFK Jr has a podcast on Apple Podcasts, and Goop (which is basically a girly liberal version of Alex Jones of Infowars’ shop) broadcast their podcast on Apple and Spotify. Regardless, any podcast platform is going to have anti-science cranks and tinfoil hat conspiracy theorists. Any music streaming platform is going to stream music by awful people: Phil Spector, Charles Manson, R. Kelly, Gary Glitter, Chris Brown, list goes on. I won’t say that Spotify are perfect, but at the end of the day there is no ethical consumption under capitalism. Everything is about money. The colour that matters most in society is green. Don’t believe me when I say you shouldn’t censor misinformation peddlers because it will only make things worse? Then read what the Royal Society, a fellowship of scientists, have to say.

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